photography / travel

Ruins of a different kind

There are tonnes of ruins in Malta. You want to stand in ancient temples? They’ve got plenty. The oldest free-standing monuments in the world? Got those too (yeah, not the Pyramids or Stonehenge). Megaliths, Bronze Age stuff, UNESCO World Heritage sights… all there. And they are wonderful, in that I-am-standing-amid-rocks-that-make-Jesus-seem-recent kinda way.

But if you’re a photographer or an explorer or a restless individual visiting the archipelago and you feel you’ve looked at enough old limestone altars for the day, I have ruins of a different kind for you!

I was on a bus* from Malta’s capital, Valletta, to Buġibba – a coastal city packed with hotels up on the northwestern part of the main island – when this view grabbed me:

windowless vista

abandoned White Rocks complex. (Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, Malta)

A complex of buildings in the midst of an overgrown field, not a pane of glass in sight, blue sky meeting the Mediterranean for a backdrop. Just visible from the road were splashes of colour where vandals/artists had left their bold imprints.

On my way back from Buġibba I saw the abandoned buildings again and this time I could not resist the idea of exploring the place. And perhaps taking a few photographs. Like maybe just a couple. I jumped off the bus and found myself on Martin Luther King Road. The only other things around were what might have once been a diner called “Summerfield’s” across the street from the bus stop and off in the distance the Pembroke Institute of Tourism Studies. The former looked like it was in the midst of its own personal zombie apocalypse.

Having no idea what the place was other than empty, I started semi-sneaking towards the structures.

I didn’t see as much of the area as I would have liked. I had arrived around 4:30 PM so the sun was already low in the sky when I began poking around, this being December. It was actually a brilliant time to take photos except for the part about imminent darkness. Around 4 o’clock in wintertime Malta, the sun becomes softer. It falls slightly above the horizon and brings out the warm colour of the beige stone everything is made of.

Earlier in the day, the sun is harsh. It is great for capturing the blue sky but it seems to suck the pulse out of the infrastructure. Plus with the sun’s position in the sky, 4 PM means the light is cutting horizontally across the sky from the southwest, throwing long shadows and seeping diagonally through the pane-less windows of the empty complex. This helps add some depth to the photos you take while also providing natural highlights and lowlights on the walls and floor for some nice contrast.

"free gay sex." "not a joke." various phone numbers. this is the White Rocks gay room.  (Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, Malta).

“free gay sex.” “not a joke.” various phone numbers. this is the White Rocks gay room. (Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, Malta).

I stopped sneaking pretty quickly, getting wrapped up in picture taking. A man standing up a set of stairs in the doorway of one of the buildings had seen me anyways. His name was Carlo or Carel or Carmel. Probably one of those. He comes here, he said, to get away from his family when he’s had enough. He also told me the complex was built in the 60s to house British naval officers. Whites Rocks, he said it was called. From what I gather, they used the complex until 1979 when they left the island and the buildings became a holiday resort.

He gave me a tour of the particular building we were in. The wind was pretty strong and he warned me not to get blown off the railingless balcony. There was a room labeled the “gay room” and an array of fabbity fab graffiti. Then he gave my camera a serious look and warned me not to take pictures of any people I came across. The folks who come here, he said, don’t always want to be found here.

“I’ll tell you something. Sometimes the gays come here… you will see a man with a man,  two women – how you say? – lesbians, together. Sometimes a man and woman. Everything from life is here.” When I asked if I could take his photo he said no because people would jump to conclusions about his activities if they knew he came here.

We parted ways eventually.

And a safety note to the abandoned building explorer: sometimes when you poke around dilapidated structures they poke back with rusty nails. Tread carefully. At one point I jumped (very cautiously) out of a window and landed without  problem. But then I took a step. And nail in my foot.

So keep an eye out for nails, glass shards, Buffy-esque wooden stakes and broken bricks weathered to a point and I think you will find White Rocks a rewarding set of ruins – if a little on the young side.

Abandoned Gallery (click to embiggen):

*For interested parties, the Arriva bus system drives right past this complex. The 12, 205, 222 and the N11 all have stops at White Rocks. Just ask for the Luther stop.

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Note: All historical notes in the post and photo captions are based on information I could garner from the internet and various informal interviews with locals. Please let me know if something is wrong! 

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